Chapter 31: The Breaking of a Soul
Annie opens her eyes wide as the gurgled screams continue to echo throughout the hall and stretch into her cell, making her skin rise with goose bumps. She doesn't know how many times this makes it, where her hands attempt to block the sound of pain, but it never succeeds. Annie always hears them scream or shout or moan in pain. Sometimes it's not real, many times it is, but she has a hard time being able to tell the difference these days.
Days. She doesn't even know how many have passed. There are no windows to the outside world in the cell that she's in. It looks eerily similar to the room that she was in a year ago. Everything looks the same and the walls are still as empty as ever. The placement of all the fixtures are in the same spot. She probably would've assumed that's exactly where she was, except for one major detail – the fourth wall, the one with the door, is mostly made of a thick acrylic glass.
Although she can see that there is a corridor that people can pass through and observe them, there is still nothing to indicate day or night, not even a clock. The lights that brightly illuminate the rooms and the corridor never turn off, either.
She realized immediately after she woke up that she also had neighbors. And one of those neighbors is screaming in pain now. She thinks it's the girl this time, but it's hard to tell with the sound being somewhat muffled, and with all the gurgling.
Johanna. Annie remembers her well. She's the one that hates the Capitol. She was the bloody one in the arena.
Annie can hear Johanna coughing now. Whatever they're doing to her, they've given her time to breathe. Annie recognizes that they're torturing her with water. They're drowning her.
Annie's mind brings back the memories of her last moments in the arena five years ago, during her Games. It had been so long since she thought about that time, and yet it comes back to her as vivid as this year's Games. She covers her ears without even knowing it and starts humming loudly, trying to block the sounds from her memories.
But the sounds of pain cannot be blocked.
From what she was able to tell after she woke from her unconsciousness on the first day, there are at least five of them, maybe more, but she only recognizes four distinct voices. She knows Enobaria is in the cell left of her and Johanna is in the one to the right of her. At first, they threw insults at each other from across her cell, which bothered Annie immensely, but she wouldn't be able to stop them even if she wanted to.
Peeta is in the room on the other side of Johanna, and although he's a bit farther away, she can hear him speak just as well as she can hear Johanna and Enobaria. She remembers Peeta's reaction after first awaking very well.
His first thoughts were on Katniss, because he started shouting her name at the top of his lungs. Johanna and Enobaria had both yelled back at him to shut up, but then Johanna would tell Enobaria to shut up also, as if Johanna was the only one who had a right to yell at Peeta. In the back of her mind, Annie found it somewhat amusing and laughed deliriously. She didn't realize it, but that stopped everyone else.
This time she is stopped. The sounds that echo throughout the prison do not at first seem to be from a person, but she realizes that it is. Then she wonders if it's Peeta, although she has heard him yelp in pain before and it was never like this. For a moment it seems like there were two people crying out in pain, but if there was, she can only hear one now.
"Stop! You're killing him! Why are you doing this?! What do you want?!" yells Peeta. Annie can only imagine what kind of torture is being done to whoever it is Peeta is pleading for. She squeezes her eyes shut and pushes her hands against her ears harder than she's ever done before.
A sudden paralyzing fear plagues her as the thought of Finnick being that person becomes a very real possibility. She jumps up and practically slams her whole body against the acrylic glass wall, ignoring the pain on the side of her face as she tries to catch any glimpse down the corridor to find out who it is exactly that's making those terrifying, inhuman sounds.
The problem is she can't see anything, she can only hear everything.
"Finnick?" she says hesitantly. "Finnick!"
"Shut up! It's not Finnick!" Johanna bites back. But Annie isn't registering Johanna's words, and she only hear the sound of the man's pain.
Only after several more minutes of hearing the man being tortured can she see the guards pulling the man out of a cell. She can barely see him, but she notices the one thing that makes her realize that it isn't Finnick.
The man has red hair.
She thinks she hears Peeta say his name. Darius.
Annie gasps in relief, almost laughing, until she realizes that even though it wasn't Finnick that was being tortured, someone else was, and she didn't even care who it was as long as it wasn't him. She backs away from the wall as if it was searing her skin, backs all the way against the opposite wall, and crouches down on the floor, crying in shame.
She assumes it's the next day when they do the same thing to the same person. Darius' agonizing screams, although they sound more animal than human, are again heard throughout the prison. Annie doesn't realize she's screaming at the same time he is, even ripping out some strands of hair around her ears as her fingers curl tight into fists.
She hears the guards, or the torturers, but her mind is so overwhelmed by the redhead's cries of pain that she doesn't comprehend anything they're saying. Plus, there are too many voices yelling over each other, too many people wanting to be heard.
Annie covers her ears again and hums loudly. This seems to have the best desired effect against the noise around her. But the louder they get, the louder she gets until she's crying or screaming, whichever her mind allows her to do that day.
After what can be assumed as days of unbelievably cruel torture, Darius finally dies, and for once Annie feels relief in knowing he's gone without the association of guilt, because he no longer has to suffer in the hands of these drones, these monsters, of the Capitol.
If only she could be so lucky.
One day, the guards take Peeta out of his room and walk him down the hall.
"Where are you taking me?" he asks the guards as they continue walking. They don't say where exactly, only tell him that he has a very important job to do for the president.
Johanna obviously hears it, too, yelling through her door, "Whatever it is, Peeta, don't do it!"
Enobaria, who hasn't said much since she's been in there, laughs in a deep, evil tone, and Johanna yells at her. "What're you laughing at, you pointy-toothed freak?!"
This only makes the gravelly voiced woman laugh once more. "As if he has any choice in the matter," says Enobaria.
Annie hears a pounding noise coming from Johanna's cell and she wonders if Johanna used her head or her hand to beat against the wall. But at least nothing else is said by anyone.
For some reason, Annie wants to know exactly when Peeta comes back, so she leans against the door and listens for his return. It is a long time before Peeta returns from wherever it was they took him, and Annie thinks she could feel the heaviness in the air, the heaviness that weighs on him. She knows there is something amiss, and even though she wants to ask, she's not sure if she really wants to know.
Johanna even tries to talk to him, but he doesn't respond. Or at least not loud enough for it to be an actual conversation. Even with Johanna's cell between them, Annie thinks she hears him mumble Katniss' name.
Annie thinks of where Katniss could be. Did they take him to see her? Is Finnick here? She wonders if Snow has them in a different area of the building. Finnick? Are you here?
She doesn't know what happened to cause Peeta to act as dismal as he is, but she is half afraid and half anxious that the guards are going to take her next, thinking that she may possibly see Finnick today, but it wouldn't be for anything than under the worst circumstances, that she believes. Maybe for torture, like they did to that redheaded man. But if that was the case, wouldn't they have done that already? Wouldn't they have taken her to be tortured, maimed, beaten in front of him if they had him here?
She waits nervously, expecting the door to open any minute now, but they never do take her out of the room.
Oddly enough, that fact gives her a bit of hope. The fact that not seeing Finnick is probably a good thing at this moment, and she closes her eyes to picture Finnick's face in her mind. She can see his soft smile, the one that he only displays to a few people, including her. In her mind, she can even hear him laugh a little. And she can see the beauty of his sea green eyes shining brightly, as if they are gleaming from the last rays of a warm sunset.
Annie smiles back at the mental image of her love. She even laughs a little as her eyes begin to well with tears.
Finnick, wherever you are, I know you're still alive. I know you are. You have to be.
Annie hears the others, the screams and groans of pain again. Only one of them seems to continue to fight and scream and laugh at them, taunting them to continue if they want to. Johanna. Annie tries to block the sound again as they continue to inflict more pain on Johanna for what seems like hours when it's probably not even half of an hour.
After a few rounds of whatever pain they inflict on Johanna, she hears Johanna laugh through her coughing. Clear as day, she hears Johanna say, "I still look better than you drones!" Annie's almost afraid of hearing another barrage of beatings on Johanna, but it doesn't happen. Instead, she hears footsteps shuffling and the door opening, then closing.
"Is this the best you can do?!" yells Johanna, before she coughs and sputters some more.
"Johanna?" Annie says almost sheepishly after a few minutes. She hasn't actually directly spoken to Johanna before, which she finds curious now considering they've been neighbors for quite some time now. Maybe even weeks. She hears Johanna sigh and groan a little. Annie calls out her name again louder.
"What do you want, Annie?" Johanna says.
"You know me?"
"And you know me. Besides, who else would be calling out for Finnick?" Annie flinches at the mention of Finnick before Johanna continues and says, "Yeah, I know you."
"Why are we here?" asks Annie. She may have an idea, but everything happened so fast that day that she still isn't sure what's going on. "Why are they doing this to us?"
Johanna laughs, but there's no humor in the tone. "Obviously they're short on martyrs."
"I don't understand."
Johanna sighs again. "Don't worry about it. Just… just try not to go crazy, will you?" Annie doesn't say anything, unsure of what to say to that. Then Johanna asks, "How did you get here anyway?"
"I don't know!" Annie says louder than she means to. "I don't! They just… took me," explains Annie, trying to stay calm, but she can feel her lips trembling as she speaks and she can only hope that Johanna doesn't ask her to repeat herself, because she's honestly not sure she can speak much longer without breaking down.
"Well, if that's really you, and it would be odd for you to be someone pretending to be Annie, then they want you for something… or someone, someone who the Capitol wants," Johanna takes another breath before she adds, "or more specifically, that Snow wants. I think you know who I'm talking about."
Annie does know, but didn't want to really admit it to herself. Now that Johanna has brought it up, she can't help but nod in agreement, even though Johanna can't see it. It's that admittance to herself that brings another set of emotions up from within her.
She doesn't answer Johanna, but she wonders if Johanna understands when the sound, birthed from within her heart, bursts out in a deep growl to a full blown agonizing scream.
Annie continues screaming until the soreness in her throat and the fact that she can no longer produce a sound forces her to stop. After a minute of silence, Annie realizes that there's a pounding in her head, so she decides to close her eyes. Her silence gives her time to accept the situation as it is, and know that what she thought before must really be true then.
That if there was a reason to take her and keep her prisoner instead of killing her, Finnick would be that reason. Knowing that Johanna confirmed what she already thought gives her not only an anger that she never thought she had, as well as an odd self-confidence that makes her wonder if it's only a symptom of her growing sense of insanity, but another feeling continues to fester within her. One that she's all too familiar with, that helps her know she still has some conscious thought. Fear. Fear not for herself this time. Fear for him, because she knows that using her to lure Finnick back to the Capitol, and back to Snow, will cost him his life.
Finnick, don't come here. Please don't. They'll just kill you. They'll kill us both. Just let me die knowing you're safe.
It's become routine now. The screams, coming through the walls that surround her, sound as if the person its coming from is standing right next to her. She opens her eyes, then closes them, then opens them again, trying to make sure that no one else is there. She doesn't know if seeing them would make it any better or worse than just hearing them. Especially when it's Peeta that's making the noise. She can't help but imagine Finnick's face, twisted in agony, whenever Peeta's being tortured.
Annie knows this is the best way to hurt her. As bad as the physical torture is on her, this is what really gets her. The screams. The sounds of people's pain. This is what she reacts to the most, and whoever is in charge probably figured that out from the very beginning, or at least from her reaction to the redheaded man. Sometimes when it gets too much to bear, she pounds at the walls, begging them to stop even though she knows they won't.
They come with food trays twice a day. Sometimes just once. And when the food does come, it's nothing extravagant. Not like the tables full of a variety of the best foods from each district during the Victory Banquet. More food made from tessera. Another way of weakening us, she thinks. Of making us vulnerable to our fears. She wonders how much longer they will keep at this. Even with her newly sought self-confidence, there's only so much she will be able to take from all of this mental anguish.
There's a period in each day that they take Peeta away from his room. Just Peeta. She doesn't know what they do to him, but every time he returns, that heaviness that she felt before is always there, following him back into his room. It seeps into the walls and reaches out to her. Sometimes Annie covers her ears, until she realizes that it's not a sound that enters her head, and then she lets out an awkward laugh.
"Peeta!" Johanna yells, but he doesn't answer back. "Peeta!" Still no answer. "Don't let them break you." Annie thinks that last statement hits her as much, if not more, than Peeta.
"But that's what they do," whispers Annie.
"You need to fight this," says Johanna, but even Johanna sounds uncertain.
"You're a fool," says Peeta. Even though he's not shouting it, Annie hears every word. "You're all fools."
She tries to recall if there was a time before the Quarter Quell when she knew something like this was going to happen. When they would try to take her away from Finnick, or vice versa.
She ponders the idea that it was because of his part in the rebellion in District 4, when he got caught by Pearce. But she remembers a point before then that might be a more personal reason for Snow. When Finnick's phone rang that one night, the night Snow announced the Quarter Quell. And Finnick didn't answer it.
They both understood what the phone call was about, and she knew it could cause trouble for him in the future. A little part of her wishes that he would have just done what he was supposed to do and take the call, and she laughs lifelessly at the thought. Finnick did what he did for Annie anyway. He didn't want to leave her side.
Yet, he was forced to anyway, and she chuckles again at the irony of it. In the end, the Capitol seems to find a way to undo them. Some part of her brain, the considerably more alert part, is able to finally understand this. And she hates them for it.
She hates them more than anything, more than the community home, more than the loss of her parents, more than even Garcen. Because what is Garcen but a product of the Capitol anyway.
She may not know the specifics of why Johanna hates them, but at least she has at least an idea of the feeling of her hatred toward them. Even so, Annie isn't completely like Johanna. Annie still fears. Unlike Johanna, Annie still has someone that she loves that she knows is still alive.
Annie's thoughts are interrupted as she hears Johanna's cries of pain. They've stopped abusing her for some reason and have focused much of their tirade against her neighbor. There is only Johanna and Peeta in the prison with her now.
She can tell that Johanna is trying to stifle her screams of agony, but they're forced out of her and, for once, Annie doesn't cover her ears right away. Instead she screams back through the door this time, yelling at those who are causing Johanna's pain to stop.
"Stop! Stop it!"
With each yell, with each pounding on the door, her anger grows and grows within her, urging itself to come out of her and pound the door until she can't pound it any longer. There are no tears, either. The tears stopped a while ago, although she doesn't remember exactly when. It's not like she's been able to keep track of the days.
Johanna stops screaming, but only because they're drowning her again. There's an unsual sound that Annie's not able to figure out, but she knows it can't be good. She can hear Johanna struggling in the water, too.
"Stop. You're killing her," she mutters, barely audible, her resolve tiring. She finds her place in the corner again, and crouches down. She covers her ears out of pure habit, barely registering what she's doing.
When they finally do stop, Annie thinks that they have finally killed her. Then when the torturers leave, she hears, just barely, Johanna sniffle.
For what seems like hours later, Peeta returns to his room, and Annie lowers her forehead onto her knees, as if the heaviness that Peeta brings with him is physically weighing down on her.
Annie then realizes they don't need to beat her to bring her to hopelessness. They do a pretty good job breaking her down via the two other victors, or victims seems more like it.
She doesn't actually know when they took Enobaria out of the room left of hers. She vaguely remembers a point in time where she heard movement, but it could've been in a dream or a brief haze for all she knows. But Annie didn't fret about her as much as she did about Johanna and Peeta. Probably because Enobaria kept to herself most of the time.
For some reason, she pictures Enobaria in her mind, with her pointed teeth, and she recalls what Johanna had said to her many days ago. Or was it weeks? Months?
Annie laughs wistfully.
Even Annie knows that Enobaria was never part of what happened in the arena, and obviously she didn't have someone she loves that Snow wanted. For a split second, she envies Enobaria, then becomes furious with herself for thinking such a thought.
Her relationship with Finnick has been the only thing that has helped her through these past five years. She hates knowing that she even regretted it for that brief moment. That blink of an eye.
"Stupid girl!" she says to herself.
Look at me. Look at me! His voice echoes in her head, but it's almost as if he were there. Her mind brings back the memory of that scene.
It's five years ago and Annie had just won the Hunger Games. She remembers being backstage trying to stop herself from completely panicking. But she's doing a terrible job of it, and that's when Finnick reaches out to her. She imagines him in her room right now, looking straight at her as he urges her eyes to focus on him.
Now listen to my voice.
"Okay," she whispers, just as she did then. She stares at the imaginary Finnick in front of her.
Okay, when I tell you to, close your eyes and think of something good. Think of…
"The beach." Annie's eyes close as she says the words, imagining just that. She can almost feel it, the breeze in her hair, the sand between her toes, and him. She imagines Finnick's arms around her, his nose tickling her neck. His lips grazing her shoulder. Annie laughs, more relaxed this time. She feels good, feels at peace for the first time in a long while.
We can go home soon. He said that, too, she remembers. With that, she opens her eyes. Those words bring her back to reality and imaginary Finnick fades away in front of her. She doesn't even attempt to reach out to him as she sometimes did before when the vision of him seemed so real.
The hopelessness she was fighting so hard against sweeps in like a tidal wave. She knows going home is as likely to happen as it is for this all to be just a nightmare, which she knows it is not.
"No. We can't," she says with finality.
She wonders when it was that she stopped feeling the pain in her chest, the constant ache that comes with thinking of Finnick. She wonders if that's a sign of her giving in to insanity, or giving up. Or if she's just dying from starvation, not of food, but of every good human emotion there is.
The constant torture of Peeta and Johanna plague not only her waking hours, but during her restless sleep as well. It's only natural that her hands move towards her ears, covering them. Half the time she doesn't even realize it's her own screams that disturb any attempt at slumber.
The thing is that no one is screaming, and she knows it. It's a routine. Somehow, her body knows how long it will be until the next round of torture or beatings on her neighbors begins and her hands automatically make their motions.
Whatever time it is, it is time for her to wake up. She usually wakes up to someone being beaten, but not this time. Something is different. She doesn't know what, but something is quite off.
"Johanna?" she croaks, as it's been several days since she spoke to anyone. She tries again, louder, and her throat burns slightly from the strain.
"Thought you were dead," Johanna answers back.
Annie makes an unfamiliar sound in the back of her throat in reaction to Johanna's comment. Then she laughs awkwardly.
"Something is wrong." Annie tries to sound calm and confident, but it's not something that she's used to being, and she just hopes that Johanna doesn't comment about it if she sounds anything but.
Johanna doesn't say anything for a while, and Annie is about to repeat herself, taking a deep breath to yell it out, but Johanna says, "Peeta. He's usually back by now, but they haven't brought him back yet."
As soon as it's said, drones enter the corridor, and from the sound of it, they are dragging something with them. Annie hears the familiar sound of the keys opening Peeta's door, and then she hears a thunk before they walk out and slam the door shut.
"Peeta!" Johanna says loudly, but there is no response. "Peeta!" Still no response.
"Is he dead?" asks Annie, ready to accept whatever answer Johanna gives her.
"I don't think so. They probably wouldn't have brought him back here if he was," says Johanna, and Annie nods. "He's probably just unconscious. Or refusing to speak to me. Either way, this doesn't look good."
Annie unintentionally thinks back to when Peeta did die, even though it was only for a minute or two. Finnick had resuscitated Peeta by blowing air into his lungs, using the mouth-to-mouth technique that is commonly used in District 4. She is able to recall it clearly now, although it wasn't something that she had tried to remember before.
Visualizing the scene in her head, she remembers that Katniss had broken down into sobs. Katniss was actually scared of losing Peeta. Annie knew absolutely that Katniss fell in love with Peeta somewhere along the line. Because of that, she feels a connection with Katniss in that sense.
And now, although she had yet to directly speak with Peeta, she knows that things have changed. They are all broken into many tiny pieces. Especially them, being in the prison cells, being tormented both physically and mentally.
Annie knows that the heaviness that Peeta has been carrying is a result of that, and she wonders if they can ever recover from something like this. Even if they survive by some miraculous fate, if they're able to get out of these cells alive, will they be able to still function properly? She was already damaged before coming here, so how much more now? Even Johanna has been affected. So is it really a good thing that Peeta is still alive?
"Better than dead," replies Annie, surprising even herself with that statement, especially when all her thoughts are leading her in the other direction. She's battling her own logical way of thinking. She laughs. "Yes, better than dead."
It doesn't take long before the drones return, this time unleashing a barrage of pain on Johanna. Annie's heart beats hard and fast as she tries to endure the images that run through her head at what they could possibly be doing to her.
This time, Annie's mind turns on her and she can't think straight anymore. Her last image before she escapes into the haze of the nothingness that Finnick has helped her to avoid in the past isn't even a true image.
It's an image of her and Finnick, lying on their sides in a bed, faces toward each other. A baby lies between them, crying softly. They both stare down at their little creation, because, yes, they created him. She smiles, lost in the image and unaware of anything around her. It's a beautiful image, one that beckons her to stay in forever. And she finds it's not such a bad idea.
No longer will she hear the screams of Johanna or Peeta or anyone else that they may want to bring to torture her with. No longer will she wonder about the severity of Peeta's own troubled soul. No longer will she hope on something that will never happen.
She no longer wants to fight that haze, especially when Finnick and their son are there. This could be her last chance of finding true happiness, and although it may not be real, she accepts that it feels about as real as it will ever be.
Just as she is about to give in completely to the reality of her world, and lose herself to her own imagination, a real memory enters her mind.
"No matter what happens, promise me you'll fight to live. Promise me you won't give up."
And just like that, the haze is gone. Johanna can be heard, somehow sloshing in water, then gasping for air, then sloshing again, and finally being released to breathe.
For few seconds that follow, Annie screams in complete frustration and anger. Not anger toward the drones, or herself, or even toward the Capitol or Snow.
No, for once in her life, she's utterly angry at Finnick Odair for bringing her back to her senses.
The tears come back with a vengeance, stinging her eyes, giving her a dull pain to add to the rest of her pain.
"Promise me you won't give up."
It's only after hearing those words repeat in her head about a thousand times that her anger eventually subsides, and she nods in acceptance.
"I promise. I won't give up."
She wonders how things might have been if she had given in to that side of her brain that was lost in a haze. Had she been able to understand all that was going on around her now?
Would she have been able to understand what they were communicating to her when she woke up from the effects of the knockout gas they used to evade attacks from the guards holding their posts in the prison?
Would she have been able to believe them as they said they were on their way to District 13 to reunite them with their friends? As it was, she still had a hard time believing it, and she was alert!
And would she have been able to feel the complete emotional and wide-eyed anticipation of seeing her former mentor turned boyfriend in the flesh again?
All the questions in her mind swirled like a tornado. But it didn't matter anymore. None of it did.
Because in all the miracles in all of Panem, if there ever was a miracle to be had, nothing is as miraculous to her as she finds herself in Finnick Odair's arms again.
They whisper words of love, of comfort, of relief, between desperate kisses. She holds him as tight as she can, feeling his arms wrap around her firmly, as if trying to protect her from the air itself. She runs her fingers through his wonderful mess of bronze-colored hair. She breathes in the familiar smell of him, somewhat changed from probably being in the confines of District 13 and not having that same sea-salt scent, but still knowing it's him. She even revels in the dryness of his lips against hers, knowing that hers are just as dry and they will heal in time with each kiss they place on each other. She allows herself to be swept in the power of his sea green eyes and the ethereal light that glows within them as he stares at her, into her, straight to her heart. And she is overcome with the true beauty of who he is and finally finds her strength.
Nothing she could have imagined in her screwed up head, not even the fake image of her with Finnick and son, would have ever felt as right as the reuniting of their souls at that moment.